Intel Demos Tablets, Smartphones Running New 'Medfield' Mobile Chip


Intel has officially sent out smartphone and tablet prototypes running on its first-ever mobile system-on-a-chip codenamed Medfield, according a report from Technology Review.

The chip is the latest in Intel’s Atom line of mobile processors, none of which have gained enough traction to seriously compete against the low-power ARM-based chips produced by rivals Nvidia, Qualcomm or Samsung.

Unlike the design of its Atom predecessors, however, Medfield packs all of its punch into a single chip, making it the company’s first mobile SoC, according to the report. The all-in-one model leveraged by Medfield is commonly seen with the market-dominating chips produced by U.K.-based chip licensor ARM.

The smartphone and tablet prototypes running on Medfield were distributed by Intel in hopes of generating excitement around the new SoC. More importantly, though, the prototypes are intended to give manufacturers the design specs they need to start producing Medfield-based devices.

Technology Review noted that the smartphone prototype they received from Intel had a similar form factor to that of the iPhone 4, with the exception of its plastic frame (versus the iPhone’s glass and metal frame) giving it a lighter feel. The Medfield-powered device was running Android’s Gingerbread operating system.

Technology Review said the performance of the device was on par with iPhone and Android-based devices. What’s more, web browsing was fast, video quality was high, and the camera could capture 10 full-size eight-megapixel pictures at a rate of 15 per second when in "burst mode," according to the report.

Intel’s tablet reference design used the same Medfield chip in the phone prototype, according to the report, but ran the more recent Ice Cream Sandwich Android OS. It had a slightly larger screen than the iPad 2, but was similar in weight and measurements.

While Intel processors have stood their ground in the PC and server market for decades, the Silicon Valley giant traditionally took on a more passive role in the mobility space. With the introduction of Medfield, however, it seems Intel may finally make some mobile headway – and soon. Stephen Smith, vice president of the architecture group at Intel, hinted that Medfield-fueled devices are right around the corner. "We expect products based on these to be announced in the first half of 2012," he told Technology Review.

Upon its release, Intel's Medfield will undoubtedly face some tough competition against market leader ARM. Either way, the mobile platform provides a much-needed platform to jumpstart a larger mobility initiative for Intel.